What role does the OCA play in art?
The organization is in charge of connecting the arts communities from Norway to the world, and bringing the arts communities from the world into Norway. The real question is, and not enough people know of this question, that Norway has a long colonial history with regards to its indigenous communities. Over the last few years, we have been working to enhance the possibilities for the art communities coming from the indigenous people of Norway.
Could you explain your work with Sovereign Words?
This is a long standing project, called Critical Writing Ensembles. The idea is to create a platform for critical writing with the understanding that critical writing is becoming more and more difficult. There is less space in new
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Katya García-Antón Mahmud Hossain Opu
spapers, there is less time for people to write critically. Very often, they just rehash a press release rather than taking the time to do proper research.
We started a few years ago with the first edition in Baroda, in collaboration with TAKE magazine. We then did a second edition at the Dhaka Art Summit in 2016, and that brought together 23 writing peers, two-thirds from South Asia and one-third from Europe. Now we are in this third iteration called Sovereign Words, which is working with indigenous peers.
Can you elaborate on who these indigenous peers are and where they are from?
Indigenous peers means individuals coming from various indigenous communities from around the world. There are indigenous professionals who are poets, artists, thinkers who work in the field of culture but who may come, for example, from the indigenous community in the Nordic region, the land of Sápmi, the Sami people. They could also be from first nations such as Canada or even Bangladesh such as the Chakma, and Santal.
Could you explain what the Sami culture is and who the Sami people are?
The Sami people have been living in the Arctic region of Europe since time immemorial. They have perspectives and world views quite different to the Norwegian society. They are very closely related to the environment, the land. They have very different understandings of time. In that sense, they do share a lot with other indigenous communities in the world. Of course each indigenous community has its own language, its own customs, and beliefs, but they do share a lot of common ground.
The main common ground that they share is that all indigenous people are still under colonial rule. There is no post colonial phase for the indigenous people.
In a world dictated by the Western canon, how can the indigenous voice rise up?
I think there are two things to say there. I am not sure that the world is ruled by the western forces anymore. In the Global South, the economies are rising so rapidly, they are challenging very strongly, and in many cases superseding, the forces and the economic powers of the West. It is also the same when it comes to culture and art history.
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Some sessions of the summit were held inside this installation Mahmud Hossain Opu
Do you think the Dhaka Art Summit is helping to tip the balance in favor of indigenous art?
Yes, I think one of the important things that the Dhaka Art Summit has done is to pour resources into research and to bring visibility to art histories across the South Asian region. Not only is this important for the region but also for counterparts in the West to learn about that and to re-frame their positions and their understanding from that perspective.
What is the most important outcome from this project and what are the future plans for this?
I think one of the important things about our project is that it's a long term thing, it's not just one event. One should not understand this as a definitive statement, it is an ongoing process.
The important thing here is to think again about what is knowledge. Knowledge is not only that which comes from a university, or that which comes from an academic scholar. Every person embodies knowledge in one way or another. It is important to respect that and to place them all in dialogue. That is what we have seen in this group.